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Pakistan frees seven Taliban prisoners

AFP-JIJI

Pakistan on Saturday announced the release of seven senior Afghan Taliban figures to help the peace process in war-torn neighbor Afghanistan, the Foreign Ministry said.

“In order to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan is releasing seven Taliban detainees, namely, Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai,” it said in a statement. “These releases are in addition to 26 Taliban detainees released during the last year,” it added.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged Pakistan to help arrange peace talks between his government and the Taliban during a recent visit to Islamabad to meet with new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Infuriated by the opening in June of a Taliban office in Qatar, considered a precursor toward talks with U.S. officials, Karzai wants Pakistan to help open dialogue with the insurgents.

But analysts doubt whether Pakistan has the influence to force the Taliban to the negotiating table — and the insurgents have publicly refused all contact with Karzai’s government, branding it a U.S. puppet.

Karzai said Afghanistan expects Pakistan to provide “opportunities or a platform for talks between the Afghan High Peace Council” — Kabul’s official negotiators — and the Taliban.

In the past, the Afghan leader has identified Taliban havens in Pakistan as the main cause of increased violence in his country.

Afghan government peace negotiators accompanying Karzai earlier called for the release of the most senior Taliban figure detained in Pakistan, former deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Afghan officials believe former detainees may talk to the Kabul government, although observers say there is little evidence those hopes have been realized.

On Saturday Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a senior member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, welcomed news of the Taliban figures’ release.

“This is a goodwill and trust-building move by Pakistan and we hope the release of these Taliban prisoners could change the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan,” Qasimyar said.

Among the latest releases of Afghan prisoners, Dadullah is a senior militant commander who was captured by Pakistani security forces in February 2008 in southwestern Baluchistan province.